The Uber-Lyft battle pits SoftBank against Rakuten in Japan

The rivalry between ride-hailing giants Uber and Lyft is poised to heat up in 2019 as both prepare to hit the public markets.

But the battle may be more intense in Japan than the U.S.

That’s because while the two competitors are located just a couple miles apart in San Francisco, the biggest shareholder in each company is based in Tokyo.

According to Lyft’s IPO prospectus filed on Friday, e-commerce and internet conglomerate Rakuten owns 13 percent of the company. SoftBank, led by Masayoshi Son, acquired about 15 percent of Uber last year.

Uber and Lyft have been at the center of a capital-raising bonanza in technology over the past half-decade, with venture firms, private equity shops, hedge funds and multinational corporations pouring in billions of dollars to fund massive growth efforts before the recipients were ready or willing to go public.

“We have seen the future and this is it,” Rakuten founder and CEO Hiroshi Mikitani, now 53, said in the 2015 press release announcing a $300 million investment in Lyft. “We believe businesses like Lyft that unlock the latent potential that exists in people and society hold the key to the future.”

Mikitani, who goes by “Mickey,” didn’t know that he’d soon be going up against countryman and fellow billionaire Son, who goes by “Masa,” in the burgeoning ride-hailing market. Son is currently the third-wealthiest person in Japan, with a net worth of $17.1 billion, while Mikitani is sixth at $4.86 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.

Son has the much bigger profile since he launched the $100 billion Vision Fund in 2017 with a promise to pour hundreds of millions, and sometimes $1 billion or more, into tech companies, trying to pick the winners in what he expects to be gargantuan categories.

But in the Uber-Lyft rivalry, Mikitani is taking a more hands-on approach.

SoftBank was given two Uber board seats with its investment, but Son isn’t going to be one of the directors. Mikitani has been on Lyft’s board ever since his investment four years ago. He was selected because of “his extensive operating and management experience with major technology companies,” the prospectus says. Mikitani is a close adviser to the company and shared the stage at a company conference last year with Lyft co-founder John Zimmer.

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